by Amy Weinfurter
Member Services Coordinator
Instructional Technology Council
On March 13, 2012, Laura Duvall, a psychology faculty member at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, California, shared her strategies for “Coping with Student Incivilities in an Online Environment” as part of ITC’s Professional Webinar Series.
Defining uncivil behaviors as actions that disrupt the educational process, Duvall noted that incivilities not only diminish the learning experience of other students, but can also erode faculty’s self-confidence and passion for teaching. Her presentation examined strategies for preventing and handling a wide range of disruptive behaviors, from ambiguous incivilities to overt aggression.
Proactive Strategies: Tips to Minimize Incivilities Before They Occur
Planning for student incivility before a course begins can both reduce incivilities, and lay the groundwork for resolving any conflicts that do arise. Duvall recommended instructors:
- Outline class expectations. A syllabus quiz or contract can help ensure students understand how course policies will be defined and enforced.
- Create clear and fair course policies. Duvall noted that in online courses, it becomes especially important to outline the consequences for technical problems, and to set a “Netiquette” policy that defines appropriate online communication.
- Set students up to succeed academically. Since most confrontations with students come down to grades, let students know what is required to do well in the course, and list resources they can turn to for help.
- Create a community. Most incivilities occur in an anonymous environment; introductory discussion forums or assignments can help students get to know each other, and prevent rudeness.
Passive Incivilities: Tips for Responding to Passive Disruptive Behaviors
Ambiguous behaviors, such as “over-posting” and extensively questioning course materials, policies, and standards, often prove disruptive, whatever the student’s intentions. Duvall suggested keeping several things in mind when responding to these situations:
- Do not take uncivil behaviors personally; it can be easy to forget that students often have many stressors outside of a course, which may influence their behavior within them.
- Do not assume a student knows their behavior is rude, or a problem. Compliment them on any positive aspects of their behavior publically, and follow up privately to request any changes.
- Stay calm, friendly, and professional, and keep answers short and simple. Avoid getting angry or defensive and escalating the conflict.
Overt Incivilities: Tips for Responding to Overtly Disruptive Behaviors
Overt incivilities, such as making rude, sarcastic, or hostile comments, and angrily questioning grades, course policies, and procedures, can drastically disrupt a class. Duvall explained how reflective listening techniques can help resolve these conflicts:
- Acknowledge the student’s feelings, and let them know that you care about the outcome of the problem.
- Remain calm and professional, and do not communicate anger or defensiveness.
- Ask the student exactly what it is that they are upset about, and reflect your understanding of the problem back to them. Then restate your position, asking them to consider your perspective and obligations.
- Try to discover graceful outs for the student, and avoid turning things into a win or lose situation. Remind the student of any policies or accommodations– such as the ability to retake a class, or do well on future assignments – that may improve the situation.
Duvall noted that institutions also play an important role in reducing student incivility. Setting clear policies and standards for faculty to refer to, and matching faculty with non-supervisory mentors to discuss ways to respond to individual incidents, has helped many colleges address this issue.
To learn more about ITC’s Webinar series, which includes other great how-to presentations for eLearning practitioners, visit ITC’s Web site.
Summer 2012 Issue of the ITC Newsletter, Instructional Technology Council.